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Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future Hardcover – May 5, 2015

4.3 out of 5 stars 193 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2015 FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
A New York Times Bestseller
Top Business Book of 2015 at Forbes
One of NBCNews.com 12 Notable Science and Technology Books of 2015


“For nonfiction, I tip my hat to Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots, which is vacuuming up accolades and is recommended reading for IIF staff. Ford’s analysis, in a somewhat crowded field of similar books, offers a sobering assessment of how technology (robotics, machine learning, AI, etc.) is reshaping labor markets, the composition of growth, and the distribution of income and wealth, and calls for enlightened political and policy leadership to address coming, accelerating disruptions and dislocations.”
Bloomberg Business, Timothy Adams

““We are in an era of technological optimism but sociological pessimism. Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots captures why these shifts are related and what challenges this might pose to our conventional economic and social infrastructures.”
Bloomberg Business, Andy Haldane

“Whether you agree or not with the policy prescriptions put forward by [Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business] these two well-written books, and quite a few will likely disagree, they are important reads for those wishing to better understand and influence the future.”
Bloomberg Business, Mohamed El-Erian

“Few captured the mood as well as Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots, the winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, which painted a bleak picture of the upheavals that would come as ever-greater numbers of even highly skilled workers were displaced by machines.”
Financial Times

“[A] breathtaking new book on modern economics.”
—Forbes.com

“Lucid, comprehensive and unafraid to grapple fairly with those who dispute Ford’s basic thesis, Rise of the Robots is an indispensable contribution to a long-running argument.”
Los Angeles Times

“If The Second Machine Age was last year’s tech-economy title of choice, this book may be 2015’s equivalent.”
Financial Times, Summer books 2015, Business, Andrew Hill

“[Ford’s] a careful and thoughtful writer who relies on ample evidence, clear reasoning, and lucid economic analysis. In other words, it’s entirely possible that he’s right.”
Daily Beast

Rise of the Robots is an excellent book. Fair-minded, balanced, well-researched, and fully thought through.”
—Inside Higher Ed, Learn blog

“Surveying all the fields now being affected by automation, Ford makes a compelling case that this is an historic disruption—a fundamental shift from most tasks being performed by humans to one where most tasks are done by machines.”
Fast Company

“Well written with interesting stories about both business and technology.”
—Wired/Dot Physics

“Mr. Ford lucidly sets out myriad examples of how focused applications of versatile machines (coupled with human helpers where necessary) could displace or de-skill many jobs… His answer to a sharp decline in employment is a guaranteed basic income, a safety net that he suggests would both cushion the effect on the newly unemployable and encourage entrepreneurship among those creative enough to make a new way for themselves. This is a drastic prescription for the ills of modern industrialization—ills whose severity and very existence are hotly contested. Rise of the Robots provides a compelling case that they are real, even if its more dire predictions are harder to accept.”
Wall Street Journal

“Well-researched and disturbingly persuasive.”
Financial Times

“[Rise of the Robots is]about as scary as the title suggests. It’s not science fiction, but rather a vision (almost) of economic Armageddon.”
—Frank Bruni, New York Times

“As Martin Ford documents in Rise of the Robots, the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated...the human consequences of robotization are already upon us, and skillfully chronicled here."
New York Times Book Review

“Compelling and well-written… In his conception, the answer is a combination of short-term policies and longer-term initiatives, one of which is a radical idea that may gain some purchase among gloomier techno-profits: a guaranteed income for all citizens. If that stirs up controversy, that's the point. The book is both lucid and bold, and certainly a starting point for robust debate about the future of all workers in an age of advancing robotics and looming artificial intelligence systems.”
—ZDNet

“An alarming new book.”
Esquire

“A thorough look at how far machines have come”
Washington Post, Innovations blog

“Ford offers ideas on changes in social policies, including guaranteed income, to keep our economy humming and prepare ourselves for a more automated future.”
Booklist

“A careful and courageous examination of automation and its possible impact on society.”
Kirkus Reviews

“In Rise of the Robots, Ford coolly and clearly considers what work is under threat from automation.”
New Scientist

“Makes clear the need to come to grips with ever more rapidly advancing technology and its effects on how people make a living and how the economy functions.”
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Of all the moderns who have written on automation and rising joblessness, Martin Ford is the original. His Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future is due out this May.... Self-recommending.”
Marginal Revolution

“Robots, and their like, are on the rise. Their impact will be an important question in the next decade and beyond. Martin Ford has been thinking in this area before most others, so this book deserves very careful consideration.”
—Lawrence Summers, President Emeritus and Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University

“It's not easy to accept, but it's true. Education and hard work will no longer guarantee success for huge numbers of people as technology advances. The time for denial is over. Now it's time to consider solutions and there are very few proposals on the table. Rise of the Robots presents one idea, the basic income model, with clarity and force. No one who cares about the future of human dignity can afford to skip this book.”
—Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?

“Ever since the Luddites, pessimists have believed that technology would destroy jobs. So far they have been wrong. Martin Ford shows with great clarity why today's automated technology will be much more destructive of jobs than previous technological innovation. This is a book that everyone concerned with the future of work must read.”
—Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, co-author of How Much Is Enough?: Money and the Good Life and author of the three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes

“Martin Ford has thrust himself into the center of the debate over AI, big data, and the future of the economy with a shrewd look at the forces shaping our lives and work. As an entrepreneur pioneering many of the trends he uncovers, he speaks with special credibility, insight, and verve. Business people, policy makers, and professionals of all sorts should read this book right away—before the 'bots steal their jobs. Ford gives us a roadmap to the future.”
—Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor for the Economist and co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

“If the robots are coming for my job (too), then Martin Ford is the person I want on my side, not to fend them off but to construct a better world where we can all—humans and our machines—live more prosperously together. Rise of the Robots goes far beyond the usual fear-mongering punditry to suggest an action plan for a better future.”
—Cathy N. Davidson, Distinguished Professor and Director, The Futures Initiative, The Graduate Center, CUNY and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

“Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots is a very important, timely, and well-informed book. Smart machines, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and the “Internet of things” are transforming every sector of the economy. Machines can outperform workers in a rapidly widening arc of activities. Will smart machines lead to a world of plenty, leisure, health care, and education for all; or to a world of inequality, mass unemployment, and a war between the haves and have-nots, and between the machines and the workers left behind? Ford doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but he asks the right questions and offers a highly informed and panoramic view of the debate. This is an excellent book that offers us a sophisticated glimpse into our possible futures.”
—Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University and author of The Age of Sustainable Development

About the Author

Martin Ford, the founder of a Silicon Valley–based software development firm, has over twenty-five years of experience in computer design and software development. The author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology, and the Economy of the Future, he lives in Sunnyvale, California.
@MFordFuture
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 5, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465059996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465059997
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on April 27, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Economists have long derided early 1800s' Luddite 'lump of labor' belief that there was only a fixed amount of work to be done, and that labor-saving devices would detract from available jobs. Historically, that has been far from the case in the U.S. - advancing technology has steadily brought more prosperity for all. Even the mechanization of American agriculture, despite eliminating millions of jobs, failed to create massive unemployment - millions more new jobs became available in manufacturing. Then came automation and sending jobs to Mexico and the Far East (outsourcing, globalization, offshoring) - those lost jobs were replaced by new service jobs, often offering better wages. Until now.

America's economy is now obviously stuck in a rut, notwithstanding the almost daily reports of new technologies, green products, and purportedly beneficial free trade pacts. In fact, author Ford (and others) tells us we're now realizing this formerly symbiotic relationship between increasing productivity and rising standards of living began weakening in the 1970s. In a 1/2/2010 article, the Washington Post reported that the just completed first decade of the 21st century brought no new jobs, a first since the Great Depression. This 'lost decade' is especially astonishing when one also realizes our economy needs to create about a million jobs/year just to keep up with growth in the size of the workforce. Meanwhile, income inequality has rebounded, reaching levels not seen since 1929

Ford (mistakenly) attributes this new economy entirely to automation, severely underestimating the impact of offshoring.
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I have taught Artificial Intelligence (AI) for 3 decades at a major university. Until about 10 years ago, whenever someone worried about the effect of intelligent software/hardware destroying future jobs, I would always give my "buggy whip" argument, which goes like this:

"When the automobile was invented it DID destroy many jobs. Makers of buggy whips and horse troughs were put out of business. But many more NEW jobs were created to replace those older jobs. Witness all the gas stations, auto mechanic shops, car factories, etc."

About 8 years ago I lost faith in the buggy whip argument. I realized that, as the technology of AI advanced, a point would be reached in which intelligent software and general-purpose robots could perform all tasks (both mental and physical) that are currently achievable only by highly educated humans. Once one intelligent robot exists with a high level of general intelligence, it can be mass produced. There have been many advances in AI in recent years (in neural networks, planning and learning systems). Machine learning systems can now learn a number of complex cognitive tasks simply by observing the past performance of human experts.

I have always been an admirer of the combination of modern capitalism and (relatively) free markets as the major drivers of wealth. However, modern capitalism (with its corporations, stock and dividends) is less than a few centuries old. There is no reason to believe that it must last forever. Its "reign" over older economic systems may well end abruptly in the near future.
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Because Martin Ford is the owner of a California software company, I'd been expecting some Steve Jobs-style Silicon Valley "sunshine blowing" and gratuitous fawning over "exciting" new technologies. Instead, I think, it's safe to say that Ford's frank assessment of current and future directions in automation and machine intelligence pulls very few punches.

Yes, the impact of recent and coming advances in these fields, along with "big data" and other evolving information technologies, is going to be as bad as it looks. Ford does an excellent job of separating the scant potential survivors from the multitudes of victims and makes a convincing case for the view that there is, at any one time, a finite amount of work that markets or societies deem worthy of paying to have done. The more of such that machines can do, the less remains for humans to do. Ironically, though, it currently appears that much professional, or "knowledge," work will lend itself to routinization and automation, while traditional "in-person" activities such as construction, plumbing, or auto repair might prove more resistant.

At one point, Ford cites an estimate that 50 percent of existing U.S. jobs can be automated, and possibly another 25 percent outsourced or off-shored. These dire predictions echo concerns raised by Jeremy Rifkin (THE END OF WORK) more than two decades earlier and reinforce the ominous notion that there is simply not enough work to go around, given the current work week and an obsolete economic paradigm that ties income -- for the middle and working classes, anyway -- to production.
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